K-12 Schools in Maine Making Tough Decisions During Global Pandemic
Samantha Creech Contributing Writer
The novel Coronavirus pandemic has created chaos throughout Maine as K-12 schools prepare for a semester of uncertainty and major transitions.
Andrew Dolloff, Superintendent of Schools for the Yarmouth School Department, has had to make many tough decisions since the pandemic reached the United States.
In an email interview, Dolloff said that many of those decisions were time sensitive, and had to be made with the student’s and staff’s best interest in mind. Should he close the schools completely, and if so, for how long? Dolloff also had to determine if the schools should continue providing instructions while in the midst of deciding a course of action.
“Of course, that was followed by making determinations about what online instruction would look like, how to provide internet and devices for ALL students, how to meet special education needs, how to help all students,” he said. “How to feed students who are food-insecure, whether or not to make hourly employees work, and a myriad of other details. It was a big push!”
Currently, the school district is running smoothly with the new transition. “We’re just doing our best each day to take care of kids, keep them engaged, and provide for continuity of instruction,” Dolloff said. “Our instructional staff is doing a fantastic job. We are running at nearly 100% attendance and participation, K-12, so that is amazing – a tribute to our staff and the community – and our students!”
Principal Eric Klein of Yarmouth High School has been working with Superintendent Dolloff and the schools’ staff to ensure student and staff success as well. In an online interview, Principal Klein said some of the major challenges at the high school have been ensuring that every student has online access, and that both teachers and students have the correct materials to continue learning. Klein also mentioned the difficulty of providing the best support for students with IEP’s and 504’s.
“These are students who require modifications/accommodations to learning in traditional settings, with a great deal of guided support. How do we do this when they are home?” All of these situations are having to be dealt with on a day-by-day basis, while the students are at home learning. There was incredibly little preparation time for administrators and supporting staff to get together and discuss plans, especially keeping in mind how easily transmittable the virus is.
Teachers’ daily classroom routines and teaching techniques are being impacted as well. Nici Roubo, a second grade teacher at Kennebunk Elementary School, has set up a plan with her students moving forward. Usual daily activities in a physical classroom would include different allied arts (art, music, physical education, etc.) each day and activities incorporating various subjects, such as STEM or foreign languages.
In an online interview, Roubo said this has been difficult for the elementary students, but the second grade teacher has sent daily emails to keep her students engaged. “It includes a greeting, date and what day of school we are on, a fact of the day, and a joke of the day,” she said. “I then let them know what allied art special we would have attended on that day, if we had been in the classroom. Often I give a suggestion of something that they can do that supports the allied art. Sometimes I include a picture such as our class fish tank that is now on my kitchen table or my dog and I on a ‘recess’ walk outside.”
Students were also given a “menu” by Mrs. Roubo, where they choose from a variety of choices on what to work on that day. The menu gives suggestions so parents of the students can create activities and lessons incorporating those menu options. “There is a page for literacy, math, allied arts, and social studies/science, and social emotional learning,” she said. “Play and outside activities are encouraged. The menu suggests approx. 45 minutes for reading, writing, and math, 30 minutes each for the other focus areas for a total of approximately 3 hours of active learning time per day.
Roubo said there are many factors about this transition that worry her and her colleagues, especially since their students are young and not used to the changes that have been made. She struggles knowing that her students are not getting the same levels of support at home as they would at school and worries about the social-emotional impacts. She is also struggling with the idea of balancing offering enough for her students but not overwhelming them or their caregivers. Most of all, Roubo misses seeing her students everyday.
Lisa Coburn, a math coach from Washburn Elementary School in Auburn, has had her set of challenges as well. Coburn has been working closely with her students’ teachers on their outside course work and trying to overcome the challenges. “We have many families that do not have technology and/or internet, so there is not an expectation that all students will make contact online,” she said. “At this time the idea is that anything that students do during this time is a ‘bonus’; work will not be expected or graded. It just would not be equitable for all students.”
Another challenge that some students at Washburn Elementary School now face is limited meals and food. Coburn said that the district is still providing lunches through a curbside pickup station. They hope to expand on their offerings to students and their families because meal insecurity is a major issue in Maine.
Mrs. Coburn has been working on creating a website to share math resources for the Washburn Elementary School families and staff so all students can get the support they need during this time.
Teachers and administrators are not the only ones having to transition their daily routine during this time. In an online interview, Ryan Connors, a senior at Kennebunk High School, has described his day as full of homework with small breaks in between, “I wake up at 8 a.m. and eat breakfast, then I start working. I usually have about 3 classes of work each day so I’ll do work for about 2 classes before I eat lunch, and then I’ll do the last class after until maybe 2:00 p.m,” he said.
“I generally have one Google Hangout class/lecture around 1:00 p.m., take a break from work until maybe 4:30-5:00 p.m., and then I do homework for the next day or get ahead on work I can do early. That varies in time, usually a little over 2 hours.”
Kennebunk High School has implemented online learning until at least April 26, with plans being made to extend that date to later if needed.
Connors is a three sport athlete, and will not be having a baseball season during his senior year. “I’m probably most disappointed about likely not having one more baseball season or at the best a very shortened one,” he said. “I’ve played baseball since I was five so it’s sad that something is just gone when I was expecting one more season.”
Connors will be attending United States Military Academy at West Point starting on June 29 for cadet basic training which will last until the start of the 2020-2021 school year in August. Connors said there is talk about possibly having a high school graduation ceremony during the summer months, yet Connors wouldn’t be able to attend his own graduation due to training. “I’m looking at starting college without receiving a high school diploma or simply getting my diploma in the mail. That is very disappointing.”
Each school district has different strategies and procedures being done since it was decided by the State that each superintendent will make their own decisions on how they will run their districts. Some schools will be online indefinitely, others are waiting for the call to come back to school. Only time will tell.